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Old 02-04-2009, 11:32 AM   #1
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Sans Friends - Universal Studios, Nascar Cafe, Tchoup Chop

Saturday, 8th November

I’m awoken at around 8am by some inconsiderate git yelling at his kids as he passes our room. It quickly registers that in my drunken stupor last night, I failed to put in my ear plugs (anyone who’s ever tried to sleep within 3 blocks of Matt, will tell you that they’re essential kit, although it appears that 16 margaritas work equally well). Not only am I feeling extremely fragile, but having only eaten half a burger and half a dozen fries yesterday, I’m also ravenously hungry. Matt goes off in search of sustenance and quickly returns with a couple of orange juices, a croissant for me and a pastry for him. Thanks to my bloating issues, I seem to have developed a slight food phobia, so eat just half.

We’re both paying the price for our antics last night and take our time getting ready. It’s 10:30am before we make our way out of the room headed for Universal Studios. Even by our standards, it’s a very leisurely stroll across to CityWalk. Matt’s disappointed not to be reunited with his half-drunk glass of Bourbon at the security checkpoint. Someone’s clearly made off with it. My money’s on rickshaw boy.

The lines at the turnstiles are short, but they make a real song and dance of getting folks through them. This is one area where Disney is undoubtedly more professional. On the face of it, it seems busier here than at Islands of Adventure yesterday, but the crowds milling around the turnstiles (both inside and out) seem to vaporise as we move further into the park and even now, at 11am, the reported wait times are minimal.

We mosey on in the direction of the new Simpsons ride and take a stroll through the gardens along Sunset Blvd, taking photos of the view across the lake. No matter how busy the parks are, there’s always somewhere you can be virtually alone and we enjoy scoping out these areas. The large Cinesphere globes out on the lake are a real blot on the landscape and I’m surprised to see them as I thought the show only ran through the summer season.

We haven’t bought any souvenirs so far this trip and we’re keen to take a look inside Kwik-E-Mart. We see a couple of things we want, but we don’t want to lug them around with us so we make the decision to return later. As we exit the shop, Homer is outside on his lonesome so we take advantage of the photo op. [Unfortunately we forgot all about it until Matt found the ticket later in the trip, so we don’t have the evidence. D'oh!]

We spend some time taking in the area around the ride before joining the Express Line. The wait is around 15 minutes although, as it’s an all new experience for us, it doesn’t seem that long and the holding areas do a good job of keeping us entertained. We both enjoy the ride, particularly the Pirates of the Caribbean and Shamu send-ups.

Men in Black is one of Matt’s favourites, so we head there next. Both Express and Standard lines are walk-ons. As we wander on through Amity Avenue and The Embarcadero, I have the sudden realisation that I've forgotten to put on deodorant this morning. I’m not sure whether it’s the alarming onset of gushing or the overwhelming stench which alerts me first. Actually I’m neither sweaty nor smelly, so I really don’t know what caused this little truth to pop into my head, but now it has, I can think of nothing else. I become convinced that it can be only a matter of time before I start to honk and so there’s nothing for it but to head back to the room. We do take the time on the way out to walk through the Monsters Café as we’ve never been inside. Total chaos ensues as monsters run screaming through every exit, holding their noses as they go.

Given the potentially disastrous Florida heat/lack of deodorant combo, providence suggests we take the water taxi back to the hotel, but we just miss one and don’t want to wait. During the walk back we discuss lunch options. Matt would happily go back to Margaritaville, but there are too many other choices here for me to settle for that. He suggests the Nascar Sports Grille, but I’m feeling the need for a deli-style sandwich or something of that nature. However, I’m keen to go to a proper restaurant tonight and, knowing I might have a bit of a fight on my hands, a compromise seems in order. Nascar Sports Grille for lunch in exchange for a non-bar-propping experience this evening? Done. We toy with Bice, Emerils and Tchoup Chop, eventually settling on the latter. Despite a less than stellar experience last time we ate there, we both agree that it will be nice to relax and not have too far to go.

A quick wash and deodorise and we’re back out of the room by 1.15pm. We pop our collective head into Jake’s, but it doesn’t open until 2pm. We take a look at the menu for Islands which really appeals to me at this moment in time. I quite like the place, but Matt isn’t keen. As we pass Tchoup Chop on the way to the boat dock, we’re surprised to find that it’s open for lunch. We briefly consider it, but concur that it’s probably nicer as a dinner venue. We do take the opportunity, though to pop in and make a reservation for 7:30 this evening. They seem to know more about me than I do myself – apparently I’m still listed in their database. I make a mental note to skip the table-top dance routine this time.

We have an unusually long wait for the water taxi, but we’re in mega-chill-out mode today and contentedly sit at the dock soaking up our surroundings. Just when it seems the wait is over, the approaching boat moors up on the opposite side of the lake. We watch as the Captain re-fuels before finally making his way over to board us. We sit at the front with Bobby, our Captain, and he regales us with an interesting tale about Richard Branson. [By all accounts, Bobby one day found himself ferrying Sir Dickie from Royal Pacific to CityWalk. He informed Bobby that his father would be following him over shortly and that he was to take good care of him. Sure enough, 30 minutes or so later, a fairly frail octogenarian boarded and told Bobby he was meeting his son at CityWalk. On arrival, though, RB was nowhere to be seen. Bobby made sure that Mr Branson Senior was attended to and he in turn assured Bobby that he would be fine. Another 30 minutes went by and Sir Richard reboarded, demanding to know why Bobby hadn’t taken care of his father as he’d promised. Naturally, Bobby explained what had happened. RB told him that his mother had also decided to join him and would be making the journey over very soon. Needless to say, Bobby took equally good care of Mrs Branson, but once again RB wasn’t there to meet her. Later that day, Sir Richard appeared again and congratulated Bobby on his excellent service standards explaining that, each time, he had actually been transporting RB himself. Apparently, he quite mystery shops Virgin partners and even his own companies “in character’. I guess being a multi-millionaire must become boring after a while .]

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Old 02-04-2009, 11:33 AM   #2
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Once installed at the Nascar bar, we both order ice cold draft Yeunglings. Despite the fact that neither of us has quite shaken off our malaise, they go down a treat. Matt wants wings with a side of fries and I decide I’ll just pick at his as I’m really not in the mood for this kind of food today and there’s just nothing on the menu which grabs my attention. Wings here come in three varieties and he opts for the original buffalo sauce variety. They’re actually really good – just like the ones I’ve been craving. I’m not a fan of fries, but they’re good too – hot, crispy and nicely seasoned with a delicious honey-mustard dipping sauce. Before heading back to Universal Studios to pick up where we left off, Matt tries the new Miller Chill which he’s spotted in a few places.

Back at the Studios, we ride Shrek 4D before strolling around in a clockwise direction towards Krustyland. I try unsuccessfully to persuade Matt to ride The Mummy. He suffers from motion sickness and that, coupled with his fragile disposition, had him feeling decidedly shaky after our earlier exploits riding the Simpsons and MiB in quick succession. In further evidence of his delicate state, he's even caught on camera in an uncharacteristic water-drinking episode.

Inside Kwik-E-Mart, we sensibly refrain from buying too much, but leave with a can of Duff (which, much to Matt’s disgust, is an energy drink rather than beer), a small figurine of Homer strangling Bart, and Chef Homer who sings and dances to Disco Inferno, as well as uttering various Homerisms, my favourite being “Mmmm, barbecued something or another”.

I fancy an ice-cream, so Matt waits outside whilst I pop into Schwab’s Pharmacy. Quite a few people have clearly had the same idea and, thanks to an inconveniently placed stroller, lines have started to form in two different places for one server. Tempers begin to fray and, anticipating a scene, I give up on the ice-cream plan.

Back outside, we spot an unfamiliar camper van parked on the corner of Hollywood Blvd. As we get nearer, we realise it belongs to the Simpsons and all four of them are there for a meet and greet with hardly any line. Homer takes a real liking to our can of Duff. Apparently he can't get enough of the wonderful stuff (big yellow thieving swine).

By now, Matt’s stamina and general will to live have deserted him and he just wants to get the boat back to the resort, even abandoning his earlier proclaimed desire for “one last drink at Margaritaville”. Back at the room, he slobs out on the bed as only he knows how, whilst I write up my trip notes.

We’re ready and out of the door at 7:15pm for the short walk to Tchoup Chop. We’ve been really lucky with our room locations – at the BoardWalk we were on the lobby level about 100 yards from the shop; here we’re on the ground floor approximately 50 yards from the entrance to Islands Dining Room and Jake’s American Bar.

We’re quickly seated at one of the tables for two on the restaurant side of the bar partition. Kim is our server. As on previous occasions, they still operate a team service, but not in such an obvious way. Kim and another server bring food, a bartender brings drinks and two suits serve our entrees. Kim, though, is the only person who actually introduces herself. It soon becomes apparent why details of diners are kept in their system as she welcomes us back to Emeril’s. It’s a nice touch, if a bit overdone as this is just the first of around 10 times it’s mentioned. She does take the time, though, to give it more than lip service by asking us where we’re from and when we last visited.

Even as we sit down, it’s apparent that Matt’s hi-jinks last night are really beginning to catch up with him. He’s looking very tired and lack-lustre. The original plan had been to retire to Jake’s following the meal, but already I find myself suggesting that the lobby lounge might be more fitting. I order a glass of the Annabella Limited Edition Chardonnay and Matt has a bottle of Longboard. Kim starts by bringing us prawn crackers with peanut dipping sauce. The last time we were here, the service was so slow, we ended up with 3 cartons of these (they’re now served in metal cones). This time our experience couldn’t be more different. Everyone is attentive and professional and, as much as we enjoy eating at bars, it’s nice to have a proper restaurant dining experience.

After taking our orders, Kim brings us an amuse bouche of tuna tartare and peanuts with a few other bits and pieces in a “fortune cookie”. Very tasty. We’ve decided to share starters of Polynesian Crab Cake, Mango-Habanero Butter Sauce and Papaya Salsa, and the Homemade Dumpling Box with a Fresh Pork and Ginger Filling, Hand Rolled, Steamed and served with a Sake-Soy Dipping Sauce. Both are scrumptious. The crab cake has a beautifully soft, creamy centre and a crispy coating. They arrive pretty quickly and, at this point, I hope we’re not going to be rushed through dinner in some macabre twist of fate, but the arrival of our entrees is timed perfectly to allow us to digest our appetisers and chat through our plans for tomorrow.

I like the sound of Seared Sea Scallops with Yellow Thai Curry-Lobster Cream, Shrimp and Fire Roasted Sweet Corn Kokuho Rice Risotto, Grated Grana Padano and Fresh Parsley, and Matt fancies the Roasted Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast with Spicy Basil Sauce, Pastrami Confit Duck Leg, Julienne Sautéed Bok Choy, Bell Peppers, Sweet Onion and Kokuho Rice, but it all seems like far too much effort so we just go for pie and chips. Only kidding! We order another round of drinks, but it doesn’t slip my attention that Matt’s drinking far more of the Fiji water than he is of his beer and, as he picks at the ambrosial offering in front of him, I realise that he must be feeling worse than he’s been letting on.

I’m really pleased with my choice. The risotto is divine and is topped with four of the biggest seared scallops I’ve ever seen. They’re cooked to perfection. Matt manages to get through most of the confit leg and a couple of slices of the breast. I’m sorely tempted to help him out, but I have to leave one of my scallops as I’m starting to feel full and I don’t want to overdo it.

Matt admits that he just needs to lie down, so we make our way back to the room and are in bed before 9pm. We make a half-hearted attempt at watching TV, but the combined effects of lying in bed and yesterday’s alcohol fuelled late night soon have us both nodding off and so we give in to it.

Our time here has flown by and we wouldn’t be sorry to be staying another night, but, equally, we’re looking forward to getting to Saratoga Springs tomorrow where we’ll settle for the remainder of the trip.

Postscript: Yet another hot, sunny day with highs in the 80s.
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Old 02-04-2009, 01:43 PM   #3
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Loved reading about Universal as I haven't been there for years. Must say your food pics were great and really got my taste buds going.

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Old 02-04-2009, 02:13 PM   #4
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Great day Deb,lovely photo's.The food at Tchoup Chop looks really delicious.x.

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Old 02-04-2009, 03:20 PM   #5
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The wait for this installment was worth it--fun to read start to finish.

The Richard Branson story, funny though it was, has me wondering--Had Sir Richard shaved this famous facial hair for this ruse? Or did he wear a burka, veil and all? Or was your driver not wearing his glasses that day?!!

There is a startlingly strong resemblance between the Churchills and the Simpsons in that lovely photo. Lisa's hair is almost exactly the color of yours and, of course, it's difficult to tell Matt from Homer anytime! Looks like a photo that belongs in both families' albums.

I've never experienced Tchoup Chop but have always loved Emeril's and that plus your detailed review makes me think I need to get myself there one day.

I appreciate your taking the time to write an excellent report. Having said that, please, get busy on the next one!
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Old 02-04-2009, 03:33 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by SusanEllen View Post
it's difficult to tell Matt from Homer anytime!
mmmmmmmmmm beer!!

As a complete aside Susan, you'll be glad to know that Larry the Cable Guy is on tour this year and as well as doing the Will Rogers Stadium (which I guess is in OK) he's also visiting the UK - git'r'international!!
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Old 02-04-2009, 03:39 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Boss Hogg View Post
Will Rogers Stadium (which I guess is in OK)
Looks like I guessed wrong, it's in Fort Worth, but, he is at the BOK Center if you fancy a night of sophistication
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Old 02-04-2009, 04:12 PM   #8
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my mouth is watering from your food descriptions.
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Old 02-04-2009, 05:00 PM   #9
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Another great day .... thank you !
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Old 02-04-2009, 06:35 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Boss Hogg View Post
Looks like I guessed wrong, it's in Fort Worth, but, he is at the BOK Center if you fancy a night of sophistication
It wouldn't be the same without you.
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Old 02-05-2009, 02:12 AM   #11
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LOL, all that drinking has finally caught up with you. I'm impressed that you lasted so long tbh

Great photos as usual Deb, and all that food looks delish
Mandy xx

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Old 02-05-2009, 05:19 AM   #12
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That simpsons pic is fab
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Old 02-05-2009, 07:01 AM   #13
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More great pictures and your food piccies look wonderful.

Shame about the headaches - but can't say you don't deserve them under the circumstances

Hopefully you were fully recovered the next day

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Old 02-05-2009, 07:32 AM   #14
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Lovely report and photos again Deb. I expecting photos of you both to be looking extremely hung over when I read the report but you both looked fantastic.

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Old 02-05-2009, 04:18 PM   #15
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What a wonderful trip report (marred only by the under-the-weather feeling )

We loved the meal we had in Tchoup Tchop a few years ago and would love to return. Reading your review makes me feel I have, in a way
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